To learn something about what the work is like in the sporting goods production business, you can try to get a summer job working in a nearby sports equipment factory. Such a job is likely to be in a warehouse or in custodial services, but it may still offer you a chance to observe the manufacturing processes firsthand and to talk with experienced employees about their jobs. Working part time can also be an opportunity to show an employer that you are dependable and have good work habits, and it could lead to permanent employment in the future. Since an interest in sports is helpful, a knowledge of sports and sports equipment gained through actual participation would be beneficial.
Every sport involves its own equipment, and each kind of equipment is made somewhat differently. Basketballs and volleyballs are made by approximately the same process, which differs from the processes for making footballs and baseballs. But the manufacturing processes for sporting goods and for other products are also similar in many ways.
As in the manufacturing of other products, machine operators control large machine tools, such as presses, and smaller tools, such as saws and sewing machines. After they have done their tasks, they may pass the work on to different kinds of assemblers. Floor assemblers operate large machines and power tools; bench assemblers work with smaller machines to complete a product and perhaps to test it; precision assemblers perform highly skilled assembly work. They may work closely with engineers and technicians to develop and test new products and designs. These general categories can be applied to many of the occupations involved in sporting goods manufacturing, although the job titles vary with different kinds of products.
In the manufacturing of golf equipment, for example, the shaft of a golf club and the head, or club end, are made separately and are then assembled, weighted, and balanced. Golf-club assemblers do much of the work. They use bench-mounted circular saws to cut the shaft for a club to a specified length, depending on the model of club being made. Golf-club head formers hammer precast metal club heads to the correct angle and then glue the proper club head onto a shaft and secure the head by drilling a small hole and inserting a pin. Wooden clubs are glued together the same way, except that once the assembly has dried, the weight of the club is checked and adjusted for the model type. Assemblers or golf-club weighters can adjust the weight by drilling a hole into the head and adding molten lead or threaded cylindrical metal weights.
Grip wrappers attach the handle of the golf club. They insert a club in a rotating machine, brush adhesive on the shaft, attach a leather strap, and then carefully spin the shaft to cover it tightly and evenly with the leather strap. When they are finished, they trim the excess leather and fasten the grip in place with tape or a sleeve. Finally, golf-club head inspectors examine the head to verify that it conforms to specifications.
The manufacturing of fishing equipment is another instance of a production process involving a series of workers. It begins with fishing-rod markers, who mark the places on rod blanks where the line guides and decorative markings should be put. After this, fishing-rod assemblers use liquid cement to attach the hardware, such as reel seats, handles, and line guides, onto the rods. Line guides can also be attached with thread by guide winders, who decorate the rods by winding thread around them at intervals. Finally, fishing-reel assemblers assemble the parts of the intricate reel mechanisms, test the reels, and then attach them to rods.
Some processes used in manufacturing sporting goods, such as lathing (which is used in making baseball bats) and vulcanizing (which is used in making hockey pucks), are commonly used in making many other products as well. But other processes are more specialized. To make basketballs, volleyballs, and soccer balls, for example, ball assemblers cement panels of rubberized fabric onto a hollow, spherical frame made of wax. A door opening is left in the ball carcass so that the wax frame can be broken and removed piece by piece. Once this is done, a bladder is inserted into the ball and inflated to a specific pressure. The flaps of the door opening are then aligned with the other seams of the ball and cemented onto the bladder, and the ball is complete.
Some baseball equipment is still made by hand, much the same way it was many years ago. Many wooden bats are hand-turned to the specifications of each player.
Baseballs themselves are assembled by hand baseball sewers, who cement the leather hide of the ball to the core and sew the sections of hide together using a harness needle and waxed linen thread. To make baseball gloves, lacers sew precut pieces of leather together, working with the glove inside out. Then lining inserters put a lining in place, and reversers turn the glove right-side out on a series of posts. Next, baseball glove shapers use a heated, hand-shaped form to open and stretch the finger linings. With various rubber mallets, they hammer the seams smooth and form the glove pocket. Finally, they try on the glove and pound the pocket to make sure that it fits comfortably.
As these examples show, the manufacturing of sporting goods involves ordinary industrial processes that are adapted to suit each product. Within the limits of sports safety and economical operation of their plants, sporting goods manufacturers are constantly trying to improve designs and manufacturing processes to make equipment that is reliable and durable and maximizes athletic performance.